Kefir vs. Yogurt: What’s the Difference?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Olsen, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C on November 1, 2017Written by Jane Chertoff on November 1, 2017

Definition

Yogurt and kefir are both dairy products made from fermented milk. Kefir is a liquid milk beverage. It has an acidic, creamy taste. Yogurt is thick and almost always eaten with a spoon. It can be used as a base in smoothies or sauces. Plain yogurt usually has a tart taste, but you can buy it sweetened or flavored, sometimes with honey, vanilla, or fruit.

How are kefir and yogurt made?

Kefir is made by combining milk or water with a gelatinous kefir starter culture of bacteria, milk proteins, and yeast. Kefir can be produced with any type of milk, including:

  • full-fat animal milk
  • low-fat animal milk
  • soy
  • coconut
  • other dairy-free milk

Some kefir is made with coconut water.

Kefir is typically fermented for 14 to 18 hours at room temperature.

The process of making yogurt is similar to kefir, but it’s fermented for less time (two to four hours) and is often cultured under heat.

Nutrition

Kefir and yogurt are both good sources of:

  • protein
  • calcium
  • potassium
  • phosphorous

They are also rich in vitamin A, and B vitamins like riboflavin, folate, biotin, and B12.

Kefir has slightly less sugar than yogurt, but it depends on which brand you buy. The biggest nutritional difference between the two is that kefir contains more probiotics than yogurt. While yogurt also contains some probiotics, kefir is more potent. If you are looking to improve digestion or gut health, kefir is the better choice.

Nutritional values for yogurt vs. kefir

NutritionOne cup of plain, whole milk kefirOne cup of plain, whole milk yogurt
Calories161138
Protein (grams)97.8
Fat (grams)97
Sugar (grams)710.5
Calcium (milligrams)300275

Lactose intolerance

Kefir is generally tolerated well by people who are lactose intolerant. It’s thought that the enzymes in kefir may actually help break down the lactose. One small study found that kefir improved lactose digestion overall for people who are lactose intolerant, but more research is needed. If you are lactose intolerant, be sure to check with your doctor before adding anything new to your diet.

Some people who are lactose intolerant can digest probiotic-rich yogurt better than milk. Read more about dairy foods that are naturally low in lactose.

Probiotics

Kefir contains three times more probiotics than yogurt. It has around 12 live and active cultures and 15 to 20 billion colony-forming units (CFUs). Yogurt has one to five active cultures and six billion CFUs.

Probiotics may offer the following benefits:

  • increased immune function
  • improved digestion
  • better absorption of food and nutrients
  • infection prevention (by protecting against unwanted bacteria)

Not all types of yogurt you see at the grocery store will contain probiotics. Look for “contains live cultures” on the label for the most probiotic-rich choice. Read more about the benefits of probiotics and digestive health.

Side effects

Most adults tolerate kefir and yogurt well. However, some people experience mild side effects from eating probiotic-rich foods like kefir. You might experience mild digestive problems including gas, bloating, or constipation, especially when first adding kefir to your diet. If you’re still experiencing discomfort after a few days, talk to your doctor about what might be causing the problem.

Uses

Yogurt can be eaten on its own, but is also delicious topped with fruit, honey, and granola. It can also be used as an alternative to cream or mayonnaise in a variety of sweet and savory recipes.

Try out the following:

You can also try drinking kefir as a beverage on its own. If you don’t like the sour taste, you can mix it into a smoothie. You can even substitute kefir for buttermilk in recipes.

If you want to get more creative, try these recipes:

Where to buy

Kefir is sold at some grocery stores and health food stores. Look for it in the dairy section near the yogurt. You can also order it online.

Takeaway

Kefir and yogurt can both be healthy additions to your daily diet. If you’re looking for the healthiest option of either kefir or yogurt, always check the nutrition label. Choose a plain, non-flavored version without any added sugar or coloring.

We pick these items based on the quality of the products, and list the pros and cons of each to help you determine which will work best for you. We partner with some of the companies that sell these products, which means Healthline may receive a portion of the revenues when you buy something using the links above.

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